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John Forté walks a new path

I’m blogging from Camden, Maine, at the wonderful Pop!Tech conference. This year’s a special treat. My wife, the lovely Velveteen Rabbi, and I are team-blogging, trading off posts. You can read her posts on her website, or just read all of ours on the Pop!Tech site, where Michelle Riggen-Ransom has been doing brilliant work thus far. There’s lots of bloggers in the crowd and on twitter – follow the #poptech tag for lots of different perspectives.

The afternoon’s session focuses on energy – conservation, solar energy, and the energy of of live performance. If you were listening to east coast hip-hop in the late 1990s, you know the name John Forté. He wrote two songs for the Fugees’ breakthrough album, “The Score”, and launched a solo career… with a major interuption. In 2000, he was arrested with a briefcase containing a large quantity of liquid cocaine, convicted of conspiracy to distribute and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Thanks to intervention of Senator Orren Hatch and President George W. Bush, his sentence was commuted.

John Forté, photo by Kris Krüg

It’s a treat to be introduced as a singer-songwriter, Forté tells us, because he was a rapper, selling lots of records… “until I was not.” He’s unflinching about the fact that the failure of his rap career led him to getting involved with drug trafficking. Released last year, he’s building a new identity and new career “as a guy with a guitar.” In this new incarnation, he sings a cover of Kate Bush’s “Deal With God” with versus replaced by his rhymes: one line starts, “Ressurected on my 33rd, seven years was sufficient, God…” It’s a hell of a cover – you can hear a version here.

His new songs are confessional, raw, stripped down and literate, with a songs like one with a hook “I John who am also your brother”. He closes his set with “The Breaking of a Man”, a poetic interpretation of his arrest and time in prison. It, and his new and old work, are well worth your time for a close listen – Forté’s not just performing these days. He’s working with youth, writing a book and trying to be honest about his missteps, helping others avoid the mistakes he made.